Biohacking Tip 4: Qualitative Methods

Qualitative Methods

Qualitative Tools

Qualitative methods enable deep and detailed exploration.

When you are aiming for lasting transformative change through your biohacking experiments, that might be just what you need.

Traditionally, qualitative research involved scribing zillions of pages of field notes. And then analyzing them, painstakingly, in the wee hours by candlelight while perched on a rickety, uncomfortable chair.

Who has time?

Biohackers need a do-able system. One that is useful, convenient & enjoyable.

But let’s start with a brief introduction to:

Qualitative Methods

I introduced quantitative methods in my post: Biohacking Tip 1: Gather Data.

There I mention that data comes in 2 flavours: quantitative & qualitative. Quantitative data quantifies; qualitative data describes.

In Biohacking Tip 3: n=1 I touched on both qualitative and quantitative approaches.

A qualitative approach to biohacking will enable you to approach your experiments with open-mindedness and curiosity, whether or not you have a predetermined hypothesis.

According to Michael Quinn Patton, “qualitative inquiry documents the stuff that happens among real people in the real world in their own words, from their own perspectives, and within their own contexts.”

The most current and comprehensive resource on qualitative methods is Michael Quinn Patton’s 2015 book Qualitative Research & Evaluation Methods. It’s 806 pages of good times! (At least it is for me).

I have been a big fan of MQP for a long time. I have all his books and I owe pretty much everything I know about qualitative inquiry to him.

Including most what I offer in this post.


Anecdotes are the origin of hypotheses.

They elicit questions.

Exploring the questions inspired by anecdotes leads to new and deeper understanding.

Michael Quinn Patton notes that saying ‘that’s just anecdotal’ is an easy way to dismiss data that is generated qualitatively. And there are a lot of people who love to dismiss the qualitative.

However, as MQP points out, scientific knowledge starts with anecdotes. Like Isaac Newton’s apple, which fell, according to the anecdote, and thereby provoked the theory of gravity.

Anecdotes also enable the identification of patterns. A series of anecdotes that support a theme become evidence. As Raymond Wolfinger notes: “the plural of anecdote is data.”

NietzcheSo don’t be shy about getting anecdotal:

  • Gather anecdotes: ask questions;
  • Ask questions: look for patterns;
  • Use patterns to create hypotheses;
  • Test your hypotheses.

That’s the anecdotal route to the scientific method.

Anecdotes are freely available. You can find them everywhere~!

All you need to do is construct a net to catch them.

Which leads us back to your do-able system. One that is useful, convenient & enjoyable.


Consider joy.

That might be a bit of a stretch. At first.

But when choosing research methods for your biohacking experiments, consider:

  • Which approaches you enjoy the most; or
  • Those you hate the least.

Do those~.

Above any other consideration, choose the methods that will bring you maximum joy. Because the more you enjoy the activities that support your biohacking, the more consistently you will do them.

If quantitative methods bring you joy: use them. If collecting anecdotes is what you hate less: do that instead.

Once your healing & optimization have progressed, you might find that your joy increases. That you have more joy. And enjoy more things, including other methods.

Useful & Convenient

I you have an autoimmune disease, you already know about inconvenience.

And documenting a bunch of dietary and lifestyle changes while living with an autoimmune disease raises the inconvenience quotient to a whole other level.

So a discussion of convenience in this context is relative.

What you are aiming for in selecting qualitative methods is something that is more convenient.

The written word is the traditional method for documentation: either pen to paper or typing on a computer (or mobile).

But video might be more convenient. Or audio recording.



Maybe you have someone who would be willing interview you, using open-ended questions you develop, at predetermined intervals. Or you could use the Experience-Sampling Method (I’ll write more on that soon), with your smartphone as interviewer, as in this study titled How Do You Feel?


As well as ease of documentation, consider how convenient it might be to return to your data later to divine themes and generate further research questions.

If you plan to take that step.

In an n=1, sometimes the qualitative documentation process is sufficient. You might find you can learn enough through the process of articulating (or otherwise expressing) your observations.

Unlike researchers who are working in an unfamiliar context, you don’t have to try to understand another worldview.

Even if you don’t plan to return to your field notes (or images) for a rigorous qualitative analysis process, keeping an archive will preserve your primary data so that you can return to it in the future, if you wish to.

To track themes during future experiments. Or triangulate with other biohackers.

Once you have one or more methods you like, all you need to do is consider what you want to document.


Document whatever will be useful for you based on the purposes of your biohacking experiment.

Eileen Laird, Autoimmune Protocol blogger at Phoenix Helix offers this list.

Decide whether you want to make your documentation public or private.

Do you want to place your observations in the bosom of blogosphere? Or keep them to yourself? Both are valid.

If you decide to blog, you are in good company.

5 thoughts on “Biohacking Tip 4: Qualitative Methods

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